The Cincinnati Bengals’ practice Saturday raised questions about the quality of Welcome Stadium’s turf field, as players and coaches differed on the issue after star receiver A.J. Green was injured.
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said he doesn’t think the turf had anything to do with Green’s injury, and Dayton Public Schools officials Monday defended the safety of the field.
Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd called the surface “terrible” in an interview Sunday, telling WKRC-TV that he was “falling all over the ground” because of rocks and pebbles.
Dayton Public Schools Athletic Director Shawna Welch acknowledged Monday that the 14-year-old field is likely not at the standard NFL players are used to, but she said the turf is safe and in fairly good condition because DPS maintains it.
“For its age, it is in really good shape, and we take care of it on a yearly basis,” Welch said. “Do I, as an athletic director, feel that it’s unsafe to put our students out here? Absolutely not.”
Welch said the life span of a turf field is supposed to be 8-10 years, but some local school districts go longer before replacing their surfaces. Welch said Welcome Stadium’s surface “plays younger than it is” because Dayton hosts fewer games than districts that also use their turf for soccer, lacrosse and other functions.
Welch said she would love to have new turf and a new running track around it, but DPS has to prioritize its spending.
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The Bengals’ Saturday practice was not originally planned for Welcome Stadium. The NFL Foundation said in March that it would invest $440,000 to construct a new turf field at Triangle Park, site of the first professional football game, in 1920. That field was to host the Bengals’ practice.
But a survey of the site found possible evidence of American Indian artifacts or remains, leading the parties to cancel that effort. Last week, plans were announced to construct the new turf surface near Kettering Field and the former Parkside Homes site instead. But in the meantime, a site was needed for the Bengals’ practice in Dayton, so Welcome Stadium was chosen.
Green’s injury occurred after he and defender Dre Kirkpatrick competed for a pass, and as Kirkpatrick fell to the ground, it appeared he landed on Green’s ankle. The All-Pro receiver is expected to miss 6-8 weeks.
Regarding Boyd’s complaints about rocks and pebbles on the field, Welch said a mixture of rubber and sand pellets across the field hold the surface down, as it is stapled down around the outside.
A reporter’s examination of the field Monday showed the field surface still has good cushion to it, with very small pebbles noticeable, heavier in some spots than others, and some wear noticeable at the football yard-lines and other painted areas.
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Welch said stadium caretaker Hal Bailey grooms the field twice a month, and The Motz Group, who installed the field in 2005, “completes a yearly field maintenance to clean, sanitize and repair the field.”
Last summer, Motz said the field was in good shape for its age, according to Welch. This summer’s maintenance visit is scheduled this Wednesday. Motz Group officials could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
“It was a little slippery, but it is what it is,” Bengals receiver Alex Erickson said of the Welcome Stadium surface. “Nothing you can do about it. The turf didn’t have anything to do with the injury.”
Welch said there have been no recent complaints on the condition of the field from either Dayton athletes or the University of Dayton football team, which uses Welcome Stadium as their home field.
UD has rented Welcome Stadium since 1973, when it moved its practices and home games from the campus and Baujan Field. Dayton head football coach Rick Chamberlain would not comment on the field, and UD officials released a statement late Monday.
“University of Dayton athletics prioritizes player safety. When we rent Welcome Stadium from Dayton Public Schools, we work closely with them to ensure we are not placing our student-athletes at risk on an unsafe field,” the statement said.
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Doug Hauschild, UD’s director of athletics communication, said the Flyers football team will begin practice at Welcome Stadium on Aug. 8. UD typically practices at Welcome Stadium three or four times per week and will have six Saturday afternoon home games there this fall, starting Sept. 21 against Duquesne.
DPS owns Welcome Stadium, which opened in 1949. The Dayton high school football teams hold some of their practices at Welcome Stadium, and all City League home football games are held there, too. The season opener is Aug. 29, when Belmont hosts Troy.
Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said DPS would be “happy to accept a new turf field if the Bengals or individual Bengals players want to donate one.”
Laurel Pfahler contributed to this report.